Autumn Queen

Once in danger of extinction, the Sternbergia can now be admired in several locations from October through December.

Daffodil 521 (photo credit: Itsik Marom)
Daffodil 521
(photo credit: Itsik Marom)
F ollowing a long, scorching hot summer, the land is dry before the big winter rains appear. This is the time when the yellow Sternbergia chooses to bloom. Not just any flower, the Sternbergia is one of the biggest and most beautiful flowers in Israel.
Its color is the deep yellow of an egg yolk, which gave the Sternbergia its Hebrew name of helmonit. The flower’s six petals grow up to eight centimeters long and are shaped like a jug or a jar.
Unlike most plants, the Sternbergia blossoms with no leaves. The leaves only come out when the rain arrives and after the flower dries up and disappears.
Why does the Sternbergia choose this time of the year to bloom? After all, it requires a great amount of energy to create such a large flower and there are few pollinators flying around. The secret is the flower’s bulb, which lies underground.
The bulb is an onion-like organ that accumulates the nutritional materials that are produced in its leaves during the winter. The bulb keeps the Sternbergia safe during the hot summer and feeds the big yellow flowers in autumn.
Although the Sternbergia is very common in Turkey, Israel is included in its southern growth range. It can be found in dozens of places around the country, most of which are well known and accessible. It grows in clusters that can number from hundreds to thousands of flowers. Once on site, it is very easy to locate the yellow flower since it is big, colorful and stands in stark contrast to the brown-and-gray soil.
More than half a century ago, the Sternbergia was considered a very rare species and could be spotted only in a few places, such as Mount Meron. Today the flower can be found all over, from the Golan Heights to the Negev. After being discovered in more and more sites, its status has been changed from “in danger of extinction.” Although it has become relatively common, it remains a “protected plant.”
One of the reasons that the Sternbergia is still considered rare is the fact that it grows in unattractive locations, such as rocky mountain slopes. The flower can be seen starting in October through December, flowering in Mount Meron, the Rosh Pina wadi, Mount Tabor, near Sde Boker and Yeroham in the Negev.
Recently, it has even been spotted on Mount Hermon.